Review by Annie_M

"World at War - A"

Foreword:
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These are my impressions after playing through the game's Single Player Campaign, Co-Op Campaign, Single Player Nazi Zombie Mode, and Co-Op Nazi Zombie Mode. I will not discuss the multiplayer beta in here, though I played that for a few weeks, too.

I had high hopes for this game, but it failed to reach my expectations, and even fell a tad short of what I was expecting as a minimum (in terms of gameplay, story, etc.).

Anyway, keep in mind that this was written after only a dozen or so hours put into the game, so take it with a grain of salt.

It may also be worth noting that I have not played any of the Call of Duty games prior to Modern Warfare.

So, without further ado, the, eh-hem, 'review':

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Call of Duty: World at War

When Activision first announced Call of Duty: World at War late last year, I was excited. It had a somewhat fresh story, a solid cast of voice actors, was going to be grittier and more real, and had flamethrowers (which I was expecting to be abused greatly in multiplayer, but was still looking forward to). Add onto that the fact that it was built on the existing Call of Duty 4 engine, and I figured it was going to be a great game, without any of the glitches that were present in Call of Duty 4.

I was to be sadly disappointed.

Call of Duty: World at War is plagued with strange design choices and a thorough lack of quality checks. From small things like typos to big things like allies walking through barrels or the ability to get trapped in a closed spider hole, the entire game exudes a sense of laziness.

First Impressions

After playing the multiplayer beta, I was left hoping for better things in the campaign and nazi-zombie modes. The multiplayer beta had gun balance issues, a number of glitches (including infinite ammo and a hole in one of the maps), horrifyingly muffled sounds, somewhat mottled gun models, and strange character animations. Many of these carried through to the single player and cooperative modes, unfortunately, while a few were weeded out.

Fortunately, in both the campaign modes (single player and cooperative), as well as nazi zombie mode, every gun feels fairly well balanced, though the flamethrower would definitely be overpowered in a multiplayer setting, and there is an option to "unmuffle" the game's sounds.

Before continuing, allow me to explain what I'm talking about when referring to muffled sounds. In Call of Duty: World at War, Treyarch decided to introduce a new feature in the sound engine, known as "sound occlusion," which is used to realistically imitate what a person can or can't hear from any given position, relative to his surroundings. While this isn't a bad idea in theory, in application, it works too well, and instead makes it nigh impossible to tell what direction bullets are coming from, or where grenades are landing and exploding, even if one was to go off four feet behind the player.

In single player and cooperative modes, this isn't too worrisome, as there's no real need to hear people far away, but in multiplayer, it quickly becomes irritating to be killed because it's impossible to hear people walking into rooms and fairly difficult to hear anyone climbing a ladder.

Unfortunately, Treyarch only allows players to disable sound occlusion in the single player and cooperative modes, not in multiplayer (not even with console tweaks), probably because they wish to keep the game balanced for all players. This will inevitably lead to mods that edit this out entirely, but for the time being, everyone has to deal with muffled sounds in multiplayer. Some people may like this new direction, but many will not.

In any case, it's hard to point out the strong points in Call of Duty: World at War's single player and cooperative modes. They're far and few between, for the most part. Many of the game's strengths rely on the previously constructed Call of Duty 4 engine, and while that isn't a bad thing, chances are that it'll leave many Call of Duty 4 players feeling like they've already played this game before, and in a better executed fashion, at that.

It's quite easy to point out flaws, however, as many are apparent from the time the first mission concludes.

Single Player Campaign

One of the first things I noticed was that dialogue in the game is played in such a way that it makes it sound like the commanding officer is either speaking from inside the main character's head, or is telepathically communicating with the player. There is absolutely no sense of direction when the commander speaks; and yes, I had sound occlusion disabled. This leads to moments when he calls the player to his position, and the player is left utterly lost as to where to go. For example, I spent a solid five minutes spinning around at the end of the first mission just trying to figure out where the commanding officer was, what with all his "Cover me while I plant the explosives!" calls. As it turned out, he was one of two people down at the bottom of a ramp, leaning up against a closed door. I should note here that he wasn't moving his mouth, either, and was actually rather busy staring at the closed door.

Immediately after wasting time trying to find my commanding officer, I was again left wandering around, trying to figure out what to do. The game fails to state objectives clearly at times, and the first mission is a pretty good example of that problem. At the end of the first mission, the CO asks the player to defend him as he plants the explosives. However, as soon as he enters the room, the CO says, "Miller! Plant those explosives!" And then immediately plants a set of explosives, and yells something along the lines of "Dammit, these timers of blown. We have to get out of here, there's no telling how long until they blow!" For the player, it may lead to some confusion, as the commanding officer's been yelling to be defended, has planted his explosives, and then has ordered everyone to evacuate the area. Not surprisingly, though, there is another supply cache inside the room that the player has to plant explosives on, but this isn't particularly clearly stated, and the game doesn't bother trying to tell you what you're supposed to be doing. I ended up finding out about the other cache when I got sick of waiting for my CO to evacuate and went back in to see why he wouldn't move.

There are a few moments when it becomes apparent that sound occlusion should actually have been forced on in single player, and optional in multiplayer, if anything. At the end of the second mission, for example, my disabling of sound occlusion turned an event that was supposed to have an impact into a stupid, amateur moment for one of the NPCs. While, with sound occlusion on, it's impossible to hear an enemy soldier running up behind a door to assault a teammate, with occlusion off, the enemy soldier's footsteps are as clear as day, and that teammate pushing open the door only to be surprised by the enemy seems utterly idiotic.

Starting from the fourth mission (the first on the Eastern Front), a number of other oddities become apparent. When the player is told to clear the street of German soldiers in the beginning of the first Russian mission, should the player kill everything in the street too quickly, the commanding officer will yell things out of order, ala "Good job, you've killed them all," followed by "Watch out for the dog!" and "He's right in front of you!". This sort of out-of-place dialogue occurs a number of times if the player finishes certain events faster than the officer can yell his scripted lines.

Another strange design choice that popped up in the fourth mission (though I didn't notice it in any other missions) was an invisible wall that the player is forced to crawl under. It's there because a burning bookshelf is supposed to fall above the player and get lodged on a desk, providing some sense of urgency and/or excitement, but the fact that it isn't the bookshelf that's in the way but rather an invisible wall seems... strange, to say the least. I didn't even have the option of being killed by the falling, burning bookshelf, because it's entirely on the other side of that invisible wall. It seems rather like the bookshelf fell into an invisible wall that was molded to make it look like it was propped up on the desk. Not a big deal, no, but strange, nonetheless.

In the subsequent mission, while storming German trenches, my allied Russian soldiers began running through boxes and barrels, even going so far as to occasionally stand in one and shoot at the enemy. If nothing else, this one issue definitely shattered the sense of immersion every time it occurred. Is it too much to ask that the AI pathfinding go around solid objects?

Cooperative Campaign Mode

A number of these points are less apparent in cooperative mode, but are still annoying nonetheless. The more players there are, the less the objectives and omnidirectional audio are problems, but at the same time, the more some other issues become apparent.

First off, the game is actually better in cooperative mode than in single player mode. While this may not come as a surprise to many, it should be noted that the game is supposed to have a strong single player campaign, not one that needs to be carried by the benefits of multiplayer interaction.

In any case, cooperate mode still has its issues, regardless of whether it's more fun than single player or not.

Each mission is loaded from a multiplayer lobby, and not presented in an overarcing story format, the way they are in single player. This is likely in part due to the loading and synchronization times of each player, as well as in part because of the fact that cooperative mode skips levels.

That's right, any level that is deemed to be a lone-wolf-esque mission is skipped in cooperative mode, for admitably obvious reasons. While not a big issue, it is nonetheless a bit strange to see missions missing from the list of playable missions when setting up a game.

Another small gripe that probably couldn't be helped is the fact that the flamethrower goes to the host player, who controls the main character, and not to any of the other three players, who are relegated to random AI teammate roles. The only exception to this is in the third mission, in which the flamethrower is lying on the ground and is up for grabs between all players. Of course, there's still only one flamethrower in the map, so it's a race to see who can reach it first.

Somewhat more irritating is the second chance mechanism implemented that allows players to revive each other when gunned down. While the perk makes perfect sense in cooperative mode, the way it's implemented results in a number of annoying glitches and strange enemy AI behaviors. It's not uncommon to get revived and find yourself stuck in mid-air, or inside a wooden beam, or jammed between two rocks, totally unable to move. In a few cases, mashing of the crouch button freed the stuck player, but more than once, we were forced to commiting suicide and reloading from the last checkpoint. While in second chance, enemies will entirely ignore a player's existance and will often stand right next to him while shooting at other players further away. This sort of behavior is easily exploited for points in competitive mode, or simply to clear a room, if one feels like suicidally jumping through a door, then mowing all the enemies down with a pistol while in second chance.

Then there are times when AI-controlled allies will stand inbetween one player and the player he's trying to revive, causing a game over and a restart from the last checkpoint, or times when revived players find themselves stuck in enemy fire, unable to escape, because an AI teammate is blocking them into a corner. Overall, the second chance mechanism could've been implemented better, but I suppose it works well enough.

While it is true that the lack of objectives isn't as large a problem in cooperative mode (though some missions will still test that), there are moments when something quite opposite happens--instead of the game not telling the players an objective, the game will instead offer up glowing objectives that don't need to be completed, or rather, can't be completed. These glowing objectives are actually objectives that only apply in the single player campaign, but for some reason or another are still visible in cooperative mode. It's likely that these "objectives" will cause some confusion when they're stumbled across.

Just the Campaign

Both campaign modes suffer from some hilarious problems that really should have been weeded out during testing. It's possible, for example, to fall into a spider hole when knifing or bayoneting an enemy soldier as he climbs out, and then to have the lid close on you, forever trapping you inside (or until you restart from the last checkpoint).

Quite a few other issues exist, of course. Enemies will, on occasion, shoot through walls where they think there are windows, but where there quite obviously aren't any. The Japanese suicide "banzai" rushers are unable to bayonet players if they lie prone, and will instead swing aimlessly above the players' heads. Allied AI characters will often ignore enemies who are literally stabbing them in their backs and continue shooting at enemies in the distance--this is especially true for invulnerable characters like the commanding officers.

Possibly the strangest glitch I ran across while playing through the cooperative campaign was a barrel that never stopped exploding. Don't ask me how it worked, as I have no idea, but I shot it once with a mounted MG, it exploded, and then it proceeded to kill every enemy who walked passed it for a solid minute or so, as well as kill an AI teammate and knock over my commanding officer. As far as I could see, it simply looked like it never stopped spraying sparks (which caused me to think it was a graphical glitch at first), but it kept killing people, and I kept getting points.

Grand Scale?

While the campaign is supposed to be down-and-dirty, it's also supposed to feel grand, or epic, as some would say. It neither manages to feel very "down-and-dirty" or grand, with the only really gruesome scene being the very first scripted sequence, where a soldier gets his eye burned out by a cigarette, and subsequently has his throat slit. Every moment after that feels a bit detached, and way too scripted. Other scenes that should have made players feel saddened or excited come across as corny and cliche, including the very last minute of the game. While I won't spoil the ending, suffice to say that it's something of an attempt to imitate Captain Price's interrogation of Al-Asad in Call of Duty 4, but that it falls flat in some ways. I will admit that it's pretty hilarious the first time through, though.

Nazi Zombie Mode

Nazi Zombie Mode... there's so much to poke fun at when it comes to this addition to the game, but in the end, it may be the most satisfying part of the entire game. It feels a bit tacked on, and is incredibly simple in design (each level increases the speed, numbers, and health of the zombies), but works well, and takes place on a map that emphasizes close-quarters combat against the undead threat (though I wouldn't suggest playing this mode in single-player, as the map feels a bit too large at that point).

The powerups and point-award system work surprisingly well, with the stronger weapons being hidden in locked or blocked rooms that, when opened, give the zombies more points of entry to the building.

Perhaps the only "complaint" I have for this mode is the filename of the map: nazi_zombie_prototype. Why leave "prototype" in the map name if it's a completed game mode? It just seemed a bit weird to me when looking over it in the console.

Otherwise, I found Nazi Zombie mode to be the most fun, and that really doesn't say much for the rest of the game.

In The End...

In the end, Call of Duty: World at War isn't so much of an engaging, gritty game as it is a glitchy, confusing jumble of stages and event sequences, some of which are horribly scripted. The game is actually quite fun for a while, especially when taking into consideration the rather open stages and the addition of vehicles, but it doesn't have the same level of immersion as its predecessor, Call of Duty 4, and I don't see it having as much staying power, either.

I imagine this game will be heavily modded by the community for competitive purposes, and to simply adjust the sounds and damages on the guns, but only time will tell for sure.

In the meanwhile, I'm going to suggest waiting on buying this game until it gets patched a few times or gets modded enough to be fully functional in multiplayer. Of course, if you liked the multiplayer beta, in which case, you might as well just buy it now, and save yourself the trouble later.

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Score should have been a 6.5. It's good, and it's better than many games out there, but as of the time around its release, there are really some better choices up for grabs. You might as well wait until the price drops on this guy before you pick it up.


Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 11/11/08

Game Release: Call of Duty: World at War (US, 11/10/08)


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